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March 18, 2014

March 10, 2014

The Puzzle of Existence: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts

I have now completed my series of posts on The Puzzle of Existence. I'll conclude by saying that I enjoyed most of the essays in this book quite a lot, and found them interesting food for thought. Further reflection on the points raised by the various authors stands to enrich metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and the theory of explanation. Additionally, most of the essays are quite accessible for non-specialists, including advanced undergraduate students. Assuming that a less expensive paperback version becomes available, this book would be a great choice for graduate or advanced undergraduate courses covering explanation in metaphysics, the...
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March 6, 2014

McDaniel's Ontological Pluralism and the Puzzle of Existence

The very last essay in The Puzzle of Existence is the article by Kris McDaniel which examines the bearing of ontological pluralism on the question, why is there something rather than nothing? Ontological pluralism, as McDaniel uses that term, is the thesis that there is more than one kind of being, existence, or reality. (McDaniel usually prefers the term 'being,' but seems to use 'existence' and 'reality' as synonyms.) This is not simply the trivial thesis that there are many different kinds of beings (i.e., that there are things of many different kinds), and it is not a metaphysically deflationary...
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March 4, 2014

Maitzen on the Explanatory Power of Penguins

In his contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, Stephen Maitzen defends the surprising claim that penguins hold the answer to the deep mysteries of the universe. Well, that's not exactly what he says. Maitzen's position is that the only interpretation of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' on which that sentence expresses a legitimate, well-formed question is one on which it is not a deep mystery at all, but a trivial empirical question to which 'because there are penguins' is a perfectly adequate answer. It is interesting to note that Maitzen's article is, in a way, just the reverse...
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March 1, 2014

Lange on the Natural Necessity of Something

Marc Lange's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, begins with this remark: I read recently about a baby who was trapped during the night of February 26, 2011, in a locked bank vault in Conyers, Georgia. Naturally, I wondered why that had happened (235). In the article which follows this fantastic opening, Lange appeals to the theory of necessity and laws of nature from his 2009 book, Laws and Lawmakers, to argue that one can explain why there is something rather than nothing only by showing that something exists as a matter of natural necessity (or, in a qualification he...
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February 26, 2014

Kotzen on the Improbability of Nothing

When someone asks 'why p rather than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'p is far more probable than q.' When someone asks, 'why is p more probable than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'there are many more ways for p to be true than for q to be true.' According to a well-known paper by Peter Van Inwagen, the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' can be answered in just this fashion: something is far more probable than nothing, because there are infinitely many ways for there to be something,...
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February 24, 2014

Rodriguez-Pereyra on Ontological Subtraction

Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence is the last of a series of contributions on the question whether there might have been nothing. Rodriguez-Pereyra defends a version of the subtraction argument for metaphysical nihilism. That is, he argues (roughly) that for any concrete being and any possible world at which that being exists, the world obtained by subtracting that being from that world is likewise possible, and that it follows from this that there is an empty possible world. (The empty world is to be obtained by subtracting all of the concrete beings from some possible world with...
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February 11, 2014

Lowe on Metaphysical Nihilism

Like several other contributions to The Puzzle of Existence, the essay by the late E. J. Lowe is devoted to the question whether there might have been nothing. Lowe calls the view that there might have been nothing 'metaphysical nihilism,' and he offers an argument against a certain version of it. Lowe's paper begins with some very helpful context-setting. In 1996, Peter van Inwagen had argued that there is a possible world which was 'empty' in the sense of containing only abstract objects, and no concrete objects. However, according to van Inwagen, out of the infinitely many possible worlds, only...
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January 27, 2014

How to Determine Whether there Might Have Been Nothing

Even those of us who think that necessary truths often need (and have) non-trivial explanations generally think that these explanations tend to look different from the explanations of contingent truths. Furthermore, one might well think that showing that p is necessary explains why p, even if one thinks that it is possible to show that necessarily p without explaining why necessarily p. Additionally, of course, there are those who hold that once one has shown a certain proposition to be a necessary truth, there are no further 'why' questions to be asked. Thus if one wants to know whether the...
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January 14, 2014

John Leslie's Axiarchism

Why is there something rather than nothing? According to John Leslie, because it is better that there be something. Leslie holds that ethical requirements themselves are 'creatively effective' and give rise to "an ocean of infinitely many infinite minds" which Leslie calls 'God' (p. 143). Leslie is a pantheist, holding that the world (including us) is in fact constituted by the thinking of these minds. His essay is devoted to arguing both that this is the best explanation for the existence of something rather than nothing, and that this view deserves to be regarded as a kind of (non-religious) theism....
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January 6, 2014

Christopher Hughes on Contingency and Plurality

According to Christopher Hughes, arguments from contingency for the existence of a necessary being are standardly held to depend on two crucial assumptions: a contingency-dependence principle (which may be thought to derive from the Principle of Sufficient Reason), and the existence of a sufficiently inclusive being. The burden of Hughes's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence is to argue that the second assumption can be dispensed with. Let's start by seeing what these two assumptions are, and how they fit into standard arguments. A contingency-dependence principle states that any contingent entity must depend for its existence on some entity outside...
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December 20, 2013

Jacob Ross on the PSR

Leibniz famously claimed that, once we have endorsed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, "the first questions we will be entitled to put will be - Why does something exist rather than nothing?" The answer to this question, he further claimed, "must needs be outside the sequence of contingent things and must be in a substance which is the cause of this sequence, or which is a necessary being, bearing in itself the reason for its own existence, otherwise we should not yet have a sufficient reason with which to stop" ("Principles of Nature and Grace," sects. 7-8, tr. Latta). In...
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December 15, 2013

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason

Philosophers have perhaps more often assumed the Principle of Sufficient Reason than argued for it. Furthermore, this assumption has, in recent years, fallen out of favor due to the PSR's allegedly unacceptable consequences. Recently, however, the PSR has been defended by Alexander Pruss and Michael Della Rocca. Pruss and Della Rocca both argue that (a version of) the PSR is a presupposition of reason. Pruss defends a version of the PSR restricted to contingent truths and consistent with libertarian free will and indeterminism is physics as a presupposition of our scientific and 'commonsense' explanatory practices. Della Rocca argues that the...
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December 9, 2013

Oppy on Theism, Naturalism, and Explanation

In his contribution to Goldschmidt's The Puzzle of Existence, Graham Oppy argues that, "as [a] hypothes[i]s about the contents of global causal reality" (p. 51), naturalism is ceteris paribus preferable to theism. Oppy's strategy for defending this claim is to consider three hypotheses about the structure of global causal reality, and argue that naturalism is superior to theism on each hypothesis. Here are his three hypotheses: Regress: Causal reality does not have an initial maximal part. That is, it is not the case that there is a part of causal reality which has no parts that stand in causal relations...
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December 6, 2013

O'Connor on Explaining Everything

Goldschmidt's volume opens with an essay by Timothy O'Connor who defends the traditional answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing: God. More specifically, the traditional answer O'Connor defends holds that a necessarily existent immaterial agent chose that contingent beings should exist. There are several well-known difficulties for this kind of view. The first difficulty is, if there must be an explanation of why there are contingent beings, then mustn't there be an explanation of why there is a God? This is, of course, a version of the much-ridiculed 'what caused God?' retort, and O'Connor's (implicit)...
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November 27, 2013

Introducing The Puzzle of Existence

I am currently in the process of putting together a review of The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?, edited by Tyron Goldschmidt, for Faith and Philosophy. For edited volumes like this, reviews never allow enough space for substantive discussion every contribution, which is prima facie unfortunate. (I say prima facie because if the reviews were that long, I, at least, would probably read a lot fewer of them.) In light of this situation, I have resolved, before writing my review, to write blog posts with critical comments on each of the chapters. This post is...
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May 20, 2013

Omnipotence and the 'Delimiter of Possibilities' View

Aquinas notes that some analyses of omnipotence have a serious problem: they reduce the apparently substantive claim "God is omnipotent" to the trivial claim that God "can do all that He is able to do." Now, perhaps it is true that to be omnipotent is to be able to do everything God is able to do (or at least that omnipotence entails this), but this is hardly an illuminating analysis. In several places in his Anselmian Explorations, Thomas Morris defends the view that the Anselmian God is the 'delimiter of possibilities.' This view has been endorsed by other Anselmians, and...
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November 30, 2012

Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases

Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has...
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September 28, 2012

The Value Component of Plantinga's Free Will Defense

A defense (in Plantinga's sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God's goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga's focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence...
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November 19, 2011

Counterpossible Reasoning in Philosophy of Religion (and Elsewhere)

The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of...
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May 26, 2011

True and Immutable Natures in Descartes's Ontological Argument

In the Fifth Meditation, Descartes argues that "from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God, and hence that he really exists" (CSM 2:46). Caterus famously replied with the 'existing lion' objection (parallel to Gaunilo's 'Lost Island'): we can't think of anything as an existing lion without thinking of it as existing, so the existing lion must exist (CSM 2:72). In fact, Caterus didn't need to add 'existing' at all: existence is a necessary condition for the exemplification of any property whatsoever. Nothing can be red, blue, five feet...
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September 15, 2010

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Sobel's sixth chapter is devoted to, as he says, "proofs a contingentia mundi" (from the contingency of the world). The chief exponent here is Leibniz, though Sobel also considers Hume's Demea and his probable source, Samuel Clarke. Sobel argues that Leibniz's argument is valid ... by contradiction explosion. That is, he argues that Leibniz's premises are inconsistent. In this post, I show how to fix the argument using Leibnizian resources. In the next post, I will give another version of the argument which uses premises which I consider to be anti-Leibnizian, but which I think are more widely held than...
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September 2, 2010

Modal Collapse: Sobel's Objection to Gödel's Ontological Argument

The last ontological argument Sobel discusses is the Leibniz-inspired argument put forward by the famous logician Kurt Gödel. Gödel sets up a formal system in third-order quantified modal logic with equality and abstraction (!) and proves within that system the theorem: □∃xG(x) Where the predicate G is defined as follows: Gx ↔ ∀φ[P(φ) → φ(x)] Where P is primitive. (Sobel includes the complete source texts for Gödel's proof on pp. 144-146.) Now, unsurprisingly, given that the proof was originated by Gödel, everyone agrees that the proof is valid in the formal system. The question is whether there are any interpretations...
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August 25, 2010

Sobel's Argument Against Believing in the Possibility of a Perfect Being

My previous posts on Sobel's Logic and Theism, have been pretty favorable and made only minor criticisms or qualifications. In this post, my criticism will be much more strenuous for, in his criticism of modern modal ontological arguments, Sobel has made a serious error. Sobel wants to argue that there is no strong presumption in favor of the possibility of a perfect being, and that, because of contrary evidence (e.g. the problem of evil), if the ontological argument is to benefit the theist (by showing that, necessarily, there is a perfect being), rather than harm the theist (by showing that...
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August 11, 2010

Some Odd Brute Contingincies in Plantinga's Free Will Defense

Once upon a time, many philosophers believed that there was a logical problem of evil. That is, it was held that the (obviously true) proposition that there is some evil in the world logically entails that there is no God. (Where God is conceived as omnipotent and perfectly good.) I imagine that a lot of philosophers still believe this, but today few are arguing for it in print. Instead, atheist philosophers now typically put forth an evidentiary problem of evil. That is, they propound an argument something like this: The more evil there is, the less likely it is that...
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November 21, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Science Fiction Thought Experiment in Aristotle

Therefore, however many things appear to come about in different types of material, for instance, a circle in bronze and stone and wood, it seems clear that neither bronze nor stone is part of the substance of a circle, since they can be separated. But even for things that are not observed to be separated, there is no reason why the same results should not follow, just as even if all circles that were seen were bronze, nonetheless bronze would be no part of the form, but it would be difficult to separate them in thought. For instance, the form human is always observed in flesh and bones and these sorts of parts. Are these parts therefore part of the form and the definition [of human]? ...
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November 9, 2009

What Caused God?

In comments to my post on Dawkins and the Philosophers, atheist blogger Jonathan West has been pushing back against Michael Ruse's claim that Dawkins' prominent use of the "what caused God?" question is, as Jonathan puts it, 'fatuous.' Jonathan has also pushed this point in a recent blog post which considers this question in light of Swinburne's 'necessary being' arguments in The Existence of God. I will first make a few remarks about Swinburne's work in this area, and then proceed to show why the "what caused God?" question is indeed confused. To be fair, I admit...
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July 22, 2009

The Master Zombie Argument

Berkeley's so-called 'Master Argument' and Chalmers' 'Zombie Argument' are two famous arguments that turn on the relationship between conceivability and possibility. I have been thinking for some time about an amusing (and perhaps somewhat troubling) way of putting the two together. First, let me give simplified versions of the two arguments. The Master Argument (MA): (MA1) Whatever is conceived is conceived by some mind. (MA2) Whatever is conceived by a mind is in that mind. Therefore, (MA3) Nothing can be conceived that is not in a mind. (MA4) Whatever is inconceivable is impossible. Therefore, (MA5) It is impossible for anything...
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November 30, 2007

What Does Bayesian Epistemology Have To Do With Probabilities?

The answer to the question in the title of this post may seem obvious (after all, isn't Bayesianism all about probabilities?), but I think that the long discussion that followed Lauren's post on van Fraassen's objection to Bayesianism from quantum mechanics shows that it isn't clear at all - or at least, that it wasn't clear to either of us as we were discussing the issue. I think that I now understand why. In this post, I'm going to give three answers to this question, which I will call The Primitivist Account (P), The Kripkean Possible Worlds Account (KPW), and the Lewisian Possible Worlds Account (LPW). This post will discuss...
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August 8, 2007

Linguistic Ersatz Modal Realism and Types of Modality

David Lewis is best known for his modal realism, the view that all possible worlds exist in precisely the same sense that the actual world exists. He holds this view because he believes that it solves all sorts of philosophical problems related to modality, counterfactuals, properties, and so forth. However, there are a number of philosophers who think that the benefits of modal realism can be had without actually supposing that the possible world really exist. These philosophers Lewis calls ersatzers...
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